Photo by Bjørn Giesenbauer

Digital Commons for Open Government

open source marketplace for government tools

Citizens Foundation
4 min readNov 18, 2015


We propose creating a Digital Commons for Open Government and invite you to join us in its design. The plan is to create a highly automated marketplace for open source tools, open knowledge and relevant support services.

We will connect governments and civil society with open source developers and commercial support companies. This single borderless market will automate and speed up deployment of citizen participation and open data solutions on all official levels while saving participating governments money.

The challenge

Governments on all levels are struggling to cope with increased need for citizen participation and openness, despite growing political and administrative will.

More and more citizens expect public services to work as well as their digital tools that enrich and automate their lives, from Google Docs to Facebook to Uber. Current government IT infrastructures and innovation processes generally can not meet those demands.

Common culprits are legacy IT tools and increased IT costs which limit the scope for innovation and implementations. There is also lack of general knowledge on best practices for implementing citizen participation processes and open data systems.

The Internet model of innovation

We look to the Internet for inspiration on how to invent the tools needed for 21st century open governments and how to meet new challenges in a fast moving world.

There are a few key innovations that have driven the successful evolution of the Internet.

  • Open standards
  • Open source software
  • Bottom up participation
  • Automation

We can now and should upgrade our governments with the innovations and processes that have made the Internet and its success possible.

Machine learning and Automation

Machine learning, automation, algorithms or artificial intelligence, regardless of label, is transforming all sectors of our society. Open governments should be a leading example of automation as it lowers costs and more work gets done.

Public and privately run systems have rarely been equally efficient in the past due to various factors. Running highly automated systems helps level the playing field today.

The most advanced machine learning software in the world has been published in 2015 as open source code by Google, Facebook and Microsoft, ready to be used for open government tools.

Key principles

  • Openness and Inclusivity — Open source tools, processes and data will be accessible to all to learn from and use. Governments, civil society, citizens, SMEs and corporations are all welcome participants.
  • Privacy awareness and data portability — All tools must be privacy aware and will be ratable for privacy. Users should be able to move their personal data between services easily.
  • Security and decentralization — Government IT departments will be able to deploy tools easily in decentralized private clouds or commercial clouds.
  • Sharing of information — Open processes and tools will encourage participants to share their experiences with implementations.

Open Government Marketplace

The core practical element of the Digital Commons is a marketplace of tools and ideas that is crowdsourced using bottom-up participation tools. Services will have a clear focus on open government and cooperation between governments, civil society and citizens. Everything will be rated by participants where needed and useful.

New open source tools and processes will be commissioned and current tools will be customized, combined and used as needed. All work will be marked as contribution of the entities that pay for it and that create it. This will create healthy competition for developing the most useful tools for everybody to share and use.

Electronic service contract and payment services between governments IT departments and support organizations will simplify communication and payment processes. We will automate complex tender processes where needed.

The Business Model

Governments use free open source tools and pay developers for new tools and modifications. Each time new tool has been developed it is registered in the marketplace ready for all to use. The focus will be on co-design between governments, civil society and citizens in the spirit of the principles of the Open Government Partnership.

Open source developers and commercial support companies offer paid support for installing and running tools, paid for by governments in the same way commercially licensed software would be supported. Reputation will be tracked for tools, open source developers, civil society, governments and commercial support companies to crowdsource quality control.

The project will need initial funding, ideally from international organizations but in the future it will be sustainable with a small percentage of all payments for services rendered through the platform.

Building on existing work

There is already a vibrant community of developers of open source tools for open governments. But it’s hard for those projects to find the path to be used by citizens and governments to connect and work together with their respective strengths. There are also active and successful international organizations advocating for the principles of open government but finding it hard to make implementations on the ground happen.

Here are some examples of work we can build on and possible partners in designing, building and running the digital commons for open government…

International organization advocating for open government
Council of Europe, Open Government Partnership, European Union, United Nations

Open source, open government developers
Citizens Foundation, Your Priorities, D-CENT, DemocracyOS, Loomio, My Society,, LaboDemo, Démocratie Ouverte, AgoraVoting, Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, Sunlight Foundation, Nesta,, Open Ministry, Open Knowledge Foundation, ThoughtWorks, LiquidFeedback, CitySDK and many many others…

It’s time to work together

Let’s drive towards near zero marginal costs and sustainability in the innovation of open government tools around the world by cooperation on an Internet scale in the co-creation process of the tools.

Openness and inclusivity, privacy awareness, reputation management and good security will increase much needed trust and cooperation between participants. This project has the potential to dramatically improve how governments and citizens work together to get better results and create better communities.

The work starts now at You are welcome to join us!



Citizens Foundation

A nonprofit from Iceland. Our mission is to bring people together to debate and prioritize innovative ideas to improve their communities.